MIAMI (AP) — Former Chargers and Chiefs linebacker Donnie Edwards is the recipient of the NFL's 2019 Salute to Service Award.

The award was created to acknowledge the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support members of the military community. Edwards will be recognized Saturday night at NFL Honors, when The Associated Press presents its individual league awards.

USAA will contribute $25,000 in Edwards' honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The NFL will match USAA's donation of $25,000, which will be donated to the Edwards’ military charity of choice.

“I’m honored to be the recipient of the Salute to Service Award for my work with the military,” Edwards said. “It means so much to me to continue the legacy of my grandfather, Maximino, by honoring the ones who defended – and continue to defend – freedom.”

Edwards' grandfather served in World War II and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 2002, Edwards founded the Best Defense Foundation to help support two of his passions: youth outreach and military programs. The foundation supported and funded numerous programs through organizations such as Boy Scouts of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Read Across America that educated youth on nutrition and fitness. Best Defense Foundation also made a $40,000 donation to construct a new weight room at his alma mater, Chula Vista (California) High School.

Edwards notes that growing up part of a military family fueled his interest in military history; taught him firsthand what sacrifices veterans, service members and their families make; and motivated him to educate others on paying respect to service members as well as how to honor those who gave up their lives to fight for our freedom.

"My grandfather was the inspiration to start the Best Defense Foundation,” Edwards said. “His service and sacrifice to our country has always pushed me to pay tribute and give gratitude to those who protect our way of life. He always used to tell me that I have a tremendous amount of opportunity and freedom by being born in this great nation. I now want to use my platform to serve and give back to our active military personnel and veterans."

Today, the Best Defense Foundation solely focuses on raising funds to take World War II and Vietnam veterans back to their battlefields and memorials in an effort to help them make peace and pay respect to fallen soldiers.

"It's been really rewarding for me. I've been taking back veterans for about 14 years and I've done over 33 programs around the world — from Berchtesgaden, Germany to the beaches of Iwo Jima, and everything in between," Edwards said.

In February 2019, Edwards went to Japan on an NFL-USO Tour to watch the Super Bowl with the troops in Okinawa. He took seven Iwo Jima survivors back to the islands last year. And to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Edwards took 16 veterans and a nurse who served in World War II on a 10-day trip to the shores of Normandy.

"There’s nothing more rewarding than taking veterans back to where they left their blood, sweat and tears to preserve the freedoms we enjoy,” Edwards said. “I do this to honor my grandfather and his legacy. Growing up, he took care of me, and now I'm taking care of the men like him who sacrificed so much for our country. There’s a reason our motto is, 'Taking care of the ones who took care of us.'"

The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community. In October 2019, 32 NFL clubs nominated coaches, active and retired players, team executives and personnel who best demonstrated support for the military community. A panel of judges, including last year's award recipient, former Falcons and current 49ers guard Ben Garland, were evaluated based on the positive effect of the individual's efforts on the military community, the type of service conducted, the thoroughness of the program and level of commitment.


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